Is your boss driven by strategy — or squirrels?

The executive director got an email from an organization she supports. It contained a link to a thank-you video. It was polished but simple, and was even personalized to her. A nice piece of donor stewardship.

The executive director, a helpful and energetic person, forwarded the email to her development director with a comment attached: This is wonderful! We need to do this for our donors!

The development director forwarded it to me with another comment: Please tell me this is a terrible idea that we should not do!

I couldn’t oblige. Thank-you videos for donors are a good idea — assuming enough of your donors are online (they probably are), and you really thank donors, and not make it a brag-fest about yourself.

The problem was that there was no real strategy for building relationships with donors. Or anything else, really.

Thire strategy was this: Whenever the boss or a board member gets an idea, drop everything and do it!

This might sound familiar. Because it’s the operating strategy for a lot of nonprofit fundraising programs.

  • Put QR codes all over everything!
  • Amazon Smile!
  • Move all fundraising onto Instagram!
  • Make everything this shade of green I just read makes people happy!
  • Start accepting crypto!
  • Create a special proposal for my cousin’s son-in-law’s neighbor, who is very wealthy and would probably love us!
  • Buy ads in this cool magazine!

Bad ideas? Maybe. Some might be good ideas.

But they’re all bad if they aren’t connected to a strategy. They become the project of the week (or month) while critical, on-strategy work gets delayed. Or a strategic plan never gets formulated.

A strategic and strategically led organization would know their donor retention rate. They’d know if they are replacing lost donors with new donors at an acceptable rate. They’d know how many donors they are moving to monthly giving. Upgrading to midlevel or major status. How many bequest leads they are generating.

And they’d be pursuing activities that plug holes and take advantage of strengths.

Instead of dropping everything and running to the window the way a dog does when you yell “Squirrel!”

Ideas are great. Having ideas is something leaders should do. But far more important is having a strategy that guides your time and energy every day.

When you have a strategy, that cool video the boss got can spark a quick conversation:

  • What does the idea do to meet the needs we’ve identified as most important?
  • Should it take precedent over the things we’re already doing?
  • If this is something that fits our strategy, where in the “queue” should this be?

Sometimes, new and unexpected things should jump the queue and become an instant priority. Responding to the pandemic back in the spring of 2020 was that kind of thing.

When you are led by strategy, rather than what shows up in someone’s inbox, you can make smart decisions about what you should do, what should wait, and what you can ignore.

That’s what true nonprofit leadership should be like.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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